9. Learn The Difference Between Self-Interest And Best Interest.
Sometimes, actions are in both yourself and your best interest, but if there is a split, the best interest must always win.
This simple distinction can be hard to understand and makes a huge difference in your relationship dynamic. In any decision, there are actions that are in your self-interest, in that they contribute to your pleasure and well-being, and actions that are your best interest, that they align with your values, goals, and dreams—one of which is enjoying a healthy, mutually supportive relationship with your partner.
Sometimes, actions are in both yourself and your best interest, but if there is a split, the best interest must always win. The best example is infidelity. Cheating may be in your self-interest but is definitely not in your best interest if you want to build a loving relationship with your partner based on trust.
A nasty comeback, winning an argument at all costs, dumping responsibilities on your partner—these may be in your self-interest at the moment but all work to the detriment of your relationship. On the other hand, taking good care of yourself, even if it means drawing a boundary with your partner, is always in both your self-interest and your best interest. Mastering this distinction makes you a black belt in relationship intelligence.
10. Learn How To Apologize.
We inevitably screw up and hurt our partners. The two most powerful words to heal a relationship are “I’m sorry.” But you have to attach them to an actual admission of whatever it was you did. You can’t say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” because that’s a question, not an apology.
“I’m sorry that I hurt you,” followed by a description of the hurtful behavior that addresses your mistake directly and sets the stage for your partner to clear it with you. “I’m sorry that you don’t like having to offer real apologies, but tough shit. It’s the only way you’ll ever receive forgiveness.”
11. Don’t Be A Dick.
You know when you’re being a dick. You get that sick feeling (part twisted pleasure, part horrible fear) when you’re doing something dick-like and letting your partner down.
Admit it. You know when you’re being a dick. You get that sick feeling (part twisted pleasure, part horrible fear) when you’re doing something dick-like and letting your partner down. Recognize the pleasure part as unhealthy and realize that you’re doing something that will damage your relationship. Just like erosion, the damage is cumulative, and after a while, damage cannot be undone. If you have been a dick, offer a real apology (see above). And don’t do it again.
12. Treat Your Partner As First Among Equals.
If understanding self-interest vs. best interest gets you a black belt, mastering primus inter pares (Latin for first among equals) makes you a relationship grandmaster. This is the skill of placing your partner in the position of most valued, without sacrificing your self-respect, your dignity, or your own valid needs.
The trick is not making your own worthiness depend on your partner’s happiness and well-being and understanding that while you contribute to your partner’s happiness and well-being, you’re not responsible for either one.
When you see your partner as responsible for his or her own emotions and for managing them, too, you become free to embrace your equality while simultaneously pursuing the joy of making your partner feel special. And that’s when the magic truly begins.
I hope these steps to expand relationship intelligence will help you create happier, more fulfilling relationships with your partners. And if you can’t remember all of them, just remember #11.
Originally appeared on: The Good Men Project